However the church leaders explain it, the Anglican communion is now heading for an irrevocable split over the issue of gay bishops and single-sex marriage. In a very Church of England manner the primates meeting in Newry, Northern Ireland, yesterday tried to put an emollient gloss on their decision to ask the offending Episcopal Church in the US and the Church of Canada to withdraw their representatives from the governing body of the worldwide church, saying that the withdrawal was only "temporary" to give them time to reconsider their position.
Temporary in this case, however, is all too likely to lead to permanent exclusion. The two recalcitrant churches are in no mood to change their mind on gay marriage and clergy. Nor is there any reason why they should. Their congregations feel that, in the modern world, the church must come to terms with the sexuality of its flock as it is practised. The teachings of Christ, on their interpretation, do not condemn it. Why should they?
For the majority of primates called together for this meeting, however, there can be no temporising with the traditional interpretation of the scriptures. Marriage between man and woman is the sacred centre of family life. To sanction sexuality in any other form would be to betray the church's dearest beliefs. And it is the traditionalists that are in the ascendant not just in the Third World but in the fastest growing parts of the church here.
The Anglican church is not alone in this. The Roman Catholics have similar tensions, only partially suppressed by the authority and conservatism of the present pope. But the Roman Catholic church has the advantage of a disciplined institution in which obedience has a high priority. Anglicanism has always made a virtue of its ambiguity and its willingness to tolerate a broad spectrum of views within its ranks.
In this context yesterday's decision of its worldwide leaders can only be regarded as a negative one. The majority said that they were not prepared to continue communing with the US and Canadian churches while they proceeded on their liberal path. And it was the majority that prevailed. The responsibility for the split was placed firmly on the two North American churches, the onus for mending the fissure was clearly put on their shoulders. That is wrong for the church and wrong for its future.